The former president and CEO of Northwest Territorial Mint, a now-bankrupt company previously based in Federal Way dealing in precious metals, was recently convicted of 14 federal felonies resulting from a Ponzi-like scheme that defrauded customers of millions of dollars, according to the Department of Justice (DOJ).
Bernard Ross Hansen, 60, aka Ross B. Hansen was convicted by a jury of multiple counts of wire and mail fraud after more than three weeks of testimony and evidence. The jury also convicted Vault Manager Diane Renee Erdmann, 48, of 13 counts of wire fraud and mail fraud following the trial, according to the DOJ.
“They tried to make this company look solid – like the metals they sold – but in fact it was a house of cards,” Assistant United States Attorney Benjamin Diggs told the jury in the trial’s closing arguments. Acting U.S. Attorney Tessa M. Gorman announced the U.S. District Court decision on July 30.
Hansen and Erdmann will be sentenced Friday, October 29. Each of the counts of conviction are punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
Northwest Territorial Mint (NWTM) operated both a custom business that involved the manufacturing of medallions and other awards, and a bullion business that involved the selling, buying, exchanging, storing, and leasing of gold, silver, and other precious metals.
Offices were in Federal Way and Auburn, but the company declared bankruptcy on April 1, 2016.
The trial revealed Hansen and Erdmann defrauded NWTM customers in a variety of ways, such as . lying about shipping times for bullion, using customer money to expand the business to other states, and using customer money to pay their own personal expenses, according to the DOJ.
“In this way the company lacked enough assets to fulfill customer orders and used new customer money to pay off older customers in a Ponzi-like scheme,” the news release stated. Overall, 2,500 customers paid for orders or made bullion sales or exchanges that were either never fulfilled or never refunded, resulting in a total loss of $25 million.
Trial evidence also found Hansen and Erdmann defrauded customers who paid NWTM to safely store bullion in the company’s vaults, according to the DOJ. The two used bullion that was supposed to be in secure storage to fulfill other orders.
In April 2016, the NWTM vaults were inventoried and all or part of the stored bullion for more than 50 customers — worth more than $4.9 million — was missing.
The case was investigated by the FBI and prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Brian Werner and Benjamin Diggs.
In 2017, a federal judge approved a $725,000 settlement against the company to resolve a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of five former employees. According to the lawsuit, Hansen allegedly sexually harassed female employees to a point where one worker was forced to quit and the other female victims were fired, the Mirror previously reported.
The commission’s investigation found that Hansen repeatedly made lewd sexual comments to and about his female employees, including telling offensive sexual jokes, using derogatory terms for female genitalia, and commenting on women’s breast sizes and body shapes.